Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eritrea ‘continues support’ to Somalia’s Al-Shabab, says Ethiopia - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan

uly 29, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – In fresh allegations made by Ethiopia on Monday, the East African nation said that efforts to maintain peace and stability in Somalia is taking longer due to Eritrea’s continued support of the Islamist militia group, Al-Shabab.
The Ethiopian government said despite ongoing efforts by regional governments and the African Union peace keeping force (AMISOM), Eritrea continues to undermine peace efforts in war-ravaged Somalia.
“Although relative peace and security is gained in Somalia, Eritrea didn’t reduce its support to Al-Shabab and remains to be a destabilising influence”, Ethiopia’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Dina Mufti, told Sudan Tribune.
“Eritrea continues to violate UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and the country absolutely remains to be a regional security threat”, he added.
The Ethiopian government said it has its own, as well as international evidence to support its latest allegations against the secretive Red Sea nation.
Mufti said there was a need for tightened sanctions to cripple Eritrea’s negative role across the volatile East African region.
Eritrean envoy to the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa was on Monday unavailable for comment.
In 2009, the UNSC imposed sanctions against Eritrea for its role in financing, as well as providing arms and military training to the Al-Qaeda-linked group, Al-Shabab.
The sanctions also include an arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze against the country’s senior political and military officials.
Asmara has repeatedly denied allegations of backing Al-Shabab, accusing the US and its regional ally Ethiopia of running “smear campaigns” aimed at tarnishing the country’s Image.
Eritrea has repeatedly demanded that sanctions be lifted, however, the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea - a panel which investigates violations of imposed sanctions, insists it is too early, arguing that Eritrea has shown little improvement.
Relations between Ethiopia and its former province remain tense after the two neighbours engaged in a 1998-2000 border war that killed an estimated 70,000 people.
TIMETABLE FOR PULL-OUT
Meanwhile, Mufti has dismissed unconfirmed reports that the Horn of Africa nation is planning to pull-out the thousands of troops it deployed in Somalia.
“There is no an immediate plan of withdrawing our troops from Somalia”, Mufti said
According to the Ethiopian official, troop pull-out depends on the pace of progress achieved in Somalia.
“Ethiopian forces will remain in Somalia until AU peacekeepers and particularly the Somali government forces build up military capability that would fully enable them to defend existing security threats in their soil,” he said.
He reiterated that Ethiopia will continue to extend all necessary support to the Somali government until such time durable peace and stability is achieved.

Pan-African News Wire: Eritrea Denies Allegations Over Neighboring Somalia


TUESDAY 30 JULY 2013

Eritrea ‘continues support’ to Somalia’s Al-Shabab, says Ethiopia

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

July 29, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – In fresh allegations made by Ethiopia on Monday, the East African nation said that efforts to maintain peace and stability in Somalia is taking longer due to Eritrea’s continued support of the Islamist militia group, Al-Shabab.

The Ethiopian government said despite ongoing efforts by regional governments and the African Union peace keeping force (AMISOM), Eritrea continues to undermine peace efforts in war-ravaged Somalia.

“Although relative peace and security is gained in Somalia, Eritrea didn’t reduce its support to Al-Shabab and remains to be a destabilising influence”, Ethiopia’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Dina Mufti, told Sudan Tribune.

“Eritrea continues to violate UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and the country absolutely remains to be a regional security threat”, he added.

The Ethiopian government said it has its own, as well as international evidence to support its latest allegations against the secretive Red Sea nation.

Mufti said there was a need for tightened sanctions to cripple Eritrea’s negative role across the volatile East African region.

Eritrean envoy to the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa was on Monday unavailable for comment.

In 2009, the UNSC imposed sanctions against Eritrea for its role in financing, as well as providing arms and military training to the Al-Qaeda-linked group, Al-Shabab.

The sanctions also include an arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze against the country’s senior political and military officials.

Asmara has repeatedly denied allegations of backing Al-Shabab, accusing the US and its regional ally Ethiopia of running “smear campaigns” aimed at tarnishing the country’s Image.

Eritrea has repeatedly demanded that sanctions be lifted, however, the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea - a panel which investigates violations of imposed sanctions, insists it is too early, arguing that Eritrea has shown little improvement.

Relations between Ethiopia and its former province remain tense after the two neighbours engaged in a 1998-2000 border war that killed an estimated 70,000 people.

TIMETABLE FOR PULL-OUT

Meanwhile, Mufti has dismissed unconfirmed reports that the Horn of Africa nation is planning to pull-out the thousands of troops it deployed in Somalia.

“There is no an immediate plan of withdrawing our troops from Somalia”, Mufti said

According to the Ethiopian official, troop pull-out depends on the pace of progress achieved in Somalia.

“Ethiopian forces will remain in Somalia until AU peacekeepers and particularly the Somali government forces build up military capability that would fully enable them to defend existing security threats in their soil,” he said.

He reiterated that Ethiopia will continue to extend all necessary support to the Somali government until such time durable peace and stability is achieved.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Eritrea and Somalia condemned fby the UN for weapons traficating under arms embargoes

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday condemned the flow of weapons and ammunition to and through Somalia and Eritrea in violation of arms embargoes against both countries.
A resolution adopted unanimously by the council called the arms flow "a serious threat to peace and stability in the region."
The council reaffirmed the arms embargoes on Somalia and Eritrea but gave a green light for Somalia to import some military equipment and provide assistance or training for its security forces until March 6, 2014.
It barred the security forces from bringing in heavy equipment including surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank and night vision weapons, and large mortars, guns, howitzers and cannons without prior approval from the council committee monitoring sanctions against Somalia.
The council expressed deep concern at reports of continuing violations of a ban on exporting charcoal from Somalia and underscored its willingness to take action against those who violate it.
The militant Islamist group al-Shabab, which controls most of central and southern Somalia, has used proceeds from exporting charcoal to finance its operations. The group of experts monitoring the implementation of sanctions said that in 2011 al-Shabab received over $25 million from charcoal exports.
"If the current rate of production continues, charcoal exports in 2012-2013 will consume some 10.5 million trees and the area of deforestation will cover 1,750 square kilometres, which is larger than the city of Houston, Texas, in the United States," the panel said in a report to the council last week.
The council extended the mandate of the panel of experts, who monitor sanctions against both Somalia and Eritrea, until Nov. 25, 2014.
"The situation in Somalia, Eritrea's influence in Somalia, as well as the dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea, continue to constitute a threat to international peace and security in the region," the council said.
The Eritrean government has strongly denied any links to al-Shabab or playing a negative role in Somalia and has called for U.N. sanctions to be lifted.
Somalia had not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the impoverished East African nation into chaos. But since African Union forces ousted al-Shabab fighters from the war-battered capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011, a relative peace has returned, creating a new sense of hope and opportunity.
Last year, a new interim constitution was approved, a new parliament was seated, a new president was elected and a new government and Cabinet started work, replacing a weak and largely ineffective transitional government.
The Security Council recognized "significant progress in Somalia over the past year" but expressed serious concern at reports of misappropriation of the country's public resources and underlined the importance of transparent and effective management of public finances. It encouraged the new government to set out "a clear political process toward implementing a federal structure in line with the provisional constitution."
The council expressed concern at human rights violations in Somalia including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and pervasive sexual violence and underscored "the need to end impunity, uphold human rights and to hold accountable those who commit such crimes."

Monday, July 22, 2013

The case of Eritrea, after Ablyazov, - Espresso


Stefania MauriziThe UN report describes the allegations of extortion submitted by Eritrean nationals living in Milan and ignored by the police
A dossier of the inspectors of the United Nations accuses Italian companies help the African regime to violate the embargo. And the government does not cooperate with the investigation
(18 July 2013)
After Kazakhstan, Eritrea: another dictatorship is likely to create problems for the government Letta. A thick dossier of inspectors UN accuses our country to have contributed to the war machine of the father master Isaias Afewerki dell'Asmara. In the document examined by the "Espresso" are called in cases Italian companies for the supply of helicopters and vehicles used by the armed forces of the regime, subjected the international embargo. It comes to relations with North Korea. We describe the complaints of extortion submitted by Eritrean nationals living in Milan and ignored by the police. And above all, it is argued that our authorities did not cooperate with the United Nations. MAN TRAFFIC. According to the inspectors, the regime de l'Asmara manages to violate the embargo by importing dual-use systems, which can have a civilian job or military use. A key role in these operations is entrusted to an Italian Gianluca Battistini, a businessman who operates between Cesena, Dubai and Eritrea. Battistini is described as a businessman who operates between Cesena, Dubai and Asmara would have had appointments in numerous Italian companies, some of which are registered as suppliers of agricultural machinery. The inspectors write that their agriculture is used as a cover for importing materials for the arms. It would have been Battistini to help Colonel Weldu to obtain basic means for the Eritrean army, including a ship, and he sponsored the training in Palermo of a technical team of the regime. It was not the one mission: there have been numerous business trips to Italy Eritrean officials of the orders of Weldu 2010 onwards. CONNECTION UMBRA. attention of the detectives UN has focused then on the Officine Piccini of Perugia, they would sell equipment to the military and would maintain direct ties with President Afewerki in person. The workshops are part of a group with six thousand employees and direct operations in all continents is in charge of construction, major works and construction plant. According to the inspectors, one of the shareholders of the company has been under investigation in Switzerland for money laundering. HELICOPTERS GHOST. The same report highlights the mystery of two helicopters Italian, assembled in Eritrea by technicians of our country and used by the military until last fall. On this point, the detectives of the UN are very hard: the government of Rome did not have information on the type of aircraft and the other companies involved in the export to Eritrea. UN sources say that the discussion of the dossier before the Security Council was in danger of slipping to the pressures made ​​by Russia, Italy and partly from China. Then on July 11 the ambassador to the UN Cesare Maria Ragaglini dismissed criticism with a letter: "In February 2013 we said clearly that we have not authorized any export of arms or related material or dual-use materials. There is no evidence of any military assistance from Italy that support the allegations documented inspectors. " TAX ON IMMIGRANTS. Italy Other allegations relate to the absence of measures against extortion inflicted by consulates Eritrean emigrants. The United Nations has already reported this "measure extortion," which is used to fund the army and the one-party Eritrea. Italy had promised to take action but did nothing. The inspectors write that Eritrean nationals residing in our country are obliged to pay a fee unlawful, threatening not to renew the passport: "But those who have turned to the Italian police to report it, were sent away by telling him that" you do not can do nothing. '" And attach the receipt of one of these improper payments made ​​in Milan in March.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Persecuted death in Eritrean prison -Mission Network News



Eritrea (MNN/ODM) ― Open Doors USA recently learned about the death of another Christian in an Eritrean prison.
Yosief Kebedom Gelai, a recently converted single Christian, died in Medefera July 5.
Sources told Open Doors that Yosief, 41, had been sick for a long time, but that the harsh treatment at a secret Medefera incarceration center aggravated the effects of the unknown disease.
prison_AapoHaapanen (180x130).jpgEritrea ranks #10 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries with the worst persecution of believers. Yosief is the 24th reported death connected to punishment for religious activities outside of the government-sanctioned Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church, and Islam.
However, because of the government's secrecy surrounding prisoners and denied access to watchdog organizations, there may be many more deaths and burials that have not been reported.
Yosief was originally from Asmara. He went to Mendefera to teach at a primary school some time prior to his arrest. Six months after his arrival, Yosief came to faith in Christ. His devotion to Bible study and prayer caught the attention of representatives of the ruling Eritrean People's Front for Democracy and Justice (EPRDF) at the school.
Authorities arrested him in December and took him to the secret incarceration center in Mendefera where he was kept incommunicado. Sources told Open Doors the center holds many other religious prisoners whose whereabouts were previously unknown to family members and churches.
"Christians should be hugely encouraged to see how God through His Holy Spirit enables His children even new--and isolated ones like Yosief--to remain firm in their devotion to Christ no matter the circumstances," commented an Open Doors team member.
Please pray for other Christians incarcerated in Eritrean prisons. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give believers strength and peace.
You can be an encouragement to persecuted believers bysupporting the ministry of Open DoorsLearn more about their work in oppressive countries.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Eritrea pays warlord to influence Somalia - U.N. experts - chicagotribune.com

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Eritrea is undermining stability in conflict-ravaged Somalia by paying political agents and a warlord linked to Islamist militants to influence the Mogadishu government, U.N. sanctions experts said in a confidential report.

The Eritrean government has long denied playing any negative role in Somalia, saying it has no links to Islamist al Shabaab militants fighting to overthrow the Somali government. It says the U.N. sanctions imposed on it in 2009 for supporting al Shabaab were based on lies and has called for the sanctions to be lifted.

The latest annual report by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea to the Security Council's Somalia/Eritrea sanctions committee casts fresh doubt on Asmara's denials, undermining its case for lifting the sanctions against it.

"The Monitoring Group has received numerous reports about the warming of relations between Asmara and Mogadishu, and has obtained evidence of Asmara's control of political agents close to the Somali presidency and some of the individual spoilers," the group said in the report, seen by Reuters.

One such operative, the monitors said, is "Eritrean agent of influence Abdi Nur Siad 'Abdi Wal,' ... who is reported to have a close relationship with a senior al Shabaab commander."

The monitors describe Abdi Wal as a "warlord."

"Abdi Wal is now a close ally of former ARS-Asmara (a Somali Islamist network in Eritrea) leader Zakaria Mohamed Haji Abdi, for whom he provides security in Mogadishu," the monitors said. "He is known to command the allegiance of about 100 fighters in Mogadishu and is involved in contract killings."

The monitors said in their report that they have "obtained direct testimonies and concrete evidence of Eritrean support to Abdi Wal and Mohamed Wali Sheikh Ahmed Nuur." The Monitoring Group has reported on Ahmed Nuur in the past, describing him as a "political coordinator for al Shabaab" and a recipient of funds from Eritrea.

"A source on the Eritrean payroll in direct contact with Abdi Wal has confirmed that Abdi Wal has admitted in closed-door meetings that he is acting as an agent for the Eritrean government," the group said in its latest report.

Eritrea's U.N. mission did not respond to a request for comment.

RUSSIAN AND ITALIAN COMPLAINTS

The latest report said that Ahmed Nuur, also known as Ugas Mohamed Wali Sheikh, has repeatedly held meetings in Khartoum with Mohamed Mantai, Eritrea's ambassador to Sudan and, since December, Iran.

"During these meetings, options for Eritrean financial support to Ahmed Nuur were discussed," the report said.

"Mantai, a former military intelligence officer, has a history of operating in Somalia and was expelled from Kenya in 2009 after he returned from Somalia following meetings with al Shabaab agents," the monitors said.

In addition to their nearly 500-page report on Somalia and Eritrea, the Monitoring Group produced a separate report of around 80 pages focusing solely on Eritrea.

Council diplomats said the longer Somalia/Eritrea report will be made public soon, but the shorter Eritrea report will not be published because of Russian objections.

According to a letter the Russian delegation sent to Ambassador Kim Sook, chairman of the Somalia/Eritrea sanctions committee, Russia "objects to the publication of the (Eritrea) report due to the biased and groundless conclusions and recommendations contained in it."

Italian Ambassador Cesare Maria Ragaglini also wrote to Kim complaining about the report because of "misleading information and undocumented implications of violations of the arms embargo." Reuters has obtained both letters.

According to diplomats familiar with the U.N. monitors' shorter Eritrea report, an Italian helicopter exported to Eritrea for mining survey purposes was seen at a military facility there, raising the possibility of a sanctions breach.

The monitors said Italian authorities failed to provide additional information as requested, the diplomats added.

Ragaglini dismissed that allegation, saying "we did provide the information they requested (e.g. on financial flows), but there is no evidence whatsoever of military assistance from Italy to sustain the undocumented claims of the experts."

China, diplomats say, is annoyed about references in the Eritrea report to Chinese machine tools procured for a large government depot in Eritrea that houses tanks, missiles and dual-use civilian trucks. But the envoys said there was no suggestion the Chinese government was violating U.N. sanctions.

Monday, July 15, 2013

14 asylum seekers leave Israel under ‘voluntary return’ procedure; activists claim they were coerced

Human rights groups accused the government Sunday of forcefully repatriating Eritrean migrants, who were held in detention facilities. The accusations came amid reports that Israel shipped out 14 migrants on a flight to Eritrea, via Turkey, earlier Sunday morning.According to Army Radio, 15 people were originally slated to leave, but one person changed his mind at the last minute and decided to remain in Israel.
African immigrants seen at a detention facility located in the south of Israel. August, 2012. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
African immigrants seen at a detention facility located in the south of Israel. August, 2012. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
The Population, Borders and Immigration Authority (PIBA) refused to comment on the report, but said “infiltrators leave continually” as part of the “voluntary return” procedure. Israel refers to the migrants, many of whom are asylum seekers, as “infiltrators” because they enter Israel illegally, crossing the Egyptian border.
As a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Israel is forbidden to send asylum seekers back to their countries of origin if their life or freedom would be threatened by returning. However, the repatriation effort received legal approval two weeks ago when Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein authorized a new procedure approving the repatriation of migrants who had signed a voluntary return agreement.
According to Haaretz, the procedure entails a detailed, videotaped interview with the migrant, with an interpreter present. In addition, applicants must submit their reasons for wanting to leave Israel, in their own words and their own handwriting. The interview and the documents are then evaluated by a representative of the border agency and by the Custody Court.
However, human rights groups say the very fact that the migrants asking for repatriation are behind bars means their return is not voluntary.
“If the choice given to the asylum seekers is between sitting in an Israeli prison indefinitely and being tortured in Eritrea, it is not a real choice,” charged Sara Robinson, head of refugees issues at Amnesty International Israel. “The government must release the asylum seekers from custody and determine which of them is eligible for protection under international standards.”
“I’d rather die in my country than be imprisoned forever in Israel,” one Eritrean held in the Saharonim detention facility reportedly told Amnesty International.
Reut Michaeli, who directs the Hotline for Migrant Workers, said that if the facts of the matter are true then it is “highly cynical and immoral to call the repatriation, carried out by pressuring imprisoned asylum seekers — with no prospects of freedom — ‘voluntary return.’”
“It is the difficult conditions in the Saharonim detention facility and the pressure put on the inmates, which recently led them to hold a hunger strike, that made some of them consent to return to their homeland, despite the dangers they face there,” added Michaeli.
Most of the 55,000 African migrants who made it to Israel over the past decade claim they were escaping forced, open-ended conscription in Eritrea or war in Sudan. Critics counter that most are job seekers attracted to Israel’s wealthy economy and plentiful jobs in hotels, restaurants, and cleaning.
International groups have criticized Israel’s handling of the migrants. Over 70 percent of Eritreans who request asylum in Europe are granted refugee status. Of the 1,400 requests filed by Eritreans in Israel for refugee status, the vast majority have gone without a response. Only 17 received any response, all of them denials.
According to Amnesty, Israel is refusing to allow the migrants to even file a request for refugee status.
Since the completion of the 250-kilometer-long barrier along Israel’s southern border earlier this year, the influx of African migrants into the country has come to a standstill.
Last year, Israel quietly repatriated hundreds of migrants to newly independent South Sudan. Also, in early June, Israel said it found a third country that agreed to accept African migrants. It won’t identify the country, and it’s unclear when anyone will be transferred.
Haviv Gur Rettig contributed to this report

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eritrean Olympian Zersenay Tadese says relative kidnapped in Egypt's Sinai | Reuters

A relative of Zersenay Tadese, Eritrea's first-ever Olympic medallist, is being held captive in Egypt's Sinai by traffickers who are seeking a $44,000 ransom, the athlete said via Twitter on Saturday.
Since 2009, human traffickers have snatched thousands of Eritrean refugees from camps in eastern Sudan for ransom, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and bonded labor, while others are kidnapped in Egyptwhile trying to cross to Israel.
Security officials say the refugees are often captured by the Rashaida, an ethnic-Arab group in Sudan and Eritrea, and sold to Egyptian Bedouins from the Sinai Desert.
"I just received a call from a relative being held captive in the Sinai, we're being asked for 44,000 Dollars. I don't know what to do!" Zersenay said on his Twitter account.
He did not give details, or the name of the victim. The athlete was not immediately available for comment.
The long-distance athlete won bronze in the 10,000 meters at the AthensOlympics, the Red Sea state's first and only Olympic medal since it won independence from Ethiopia in 1993.
He has won gold at the World Cross Country Championship in 2007, and another four gold medals at the World Half Marathon Championships.
Thousands of Eritreans cross over to Sudan and Ethiopia every year to avoid conscription and lengthy service in the army, according to the United Nations. The refugees often aim to make their way to Europe or Israel.
Authorities in the capital Asmara were not reachable for comment.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; editing by Andrew Roche)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Eritrea Continues Campaign Against Church, Arrests Fourteen Women

In the first incident, authorities arrested nine single young female students at Sawa Academic Centre, which doubles as a military training center, near the Sudanese border. Along with scores of other Eritreans, they face incarceration in stifling metal shipping containers, overcrowded cells and dungeons.
EritreaOfficials arrested another five women in Debarewa, a small town located about 18 miles south of Asmara. Security officers rounded up the women from their homes after being informed that the women are Evangelical Christians. The women are believed to be imprisoned at a police station in town.
Eritrean sources believe these latest arrests followed the government’s recent call at the National Women’s Association conference for attendees to use all possible means to stop the influence of Evangelicals.
In 1998, the government of Eritrea ordered all religious groups apart from the Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church and Islam to register. In May 2002 the state closed all churches that did not apply for registration. The closures ushered in a time of persecution for Christians belonging to these closed churches.
Church leaders estimate that around 1,500 Christians are currently imprisoned in harrowing conditions, never having been formally charged. The latest arrests bring the number of Christians arrested since the beginning of the year to 205. Sources have informed Open Doors that they are particularly concerned for the more than 37 students arrested from the College of Science in Adi Kihe in May. They remain imprisoned at the military camp in Dekemhare and are reportedly being tortured. They are also facing inadequate food, sanitation and medical care.
Christians also fear for the life of 85-year-old Mama Hajer who was arrested in February. She is still in a metal shipping container at Mai Serwa military training camp despite suffering from pneumonia. Our sources told us that she is “bravely refusing to denounce her faith in Christ in exchange for urgent medical attention.”
The government is coupling its arrest campaign with extensive propaganda against Evangelical Christians. Open Doors has been informed that the government regularly incites the population against Evangelicals through national media, accusing them of acting as agents for foreign groups intent on undermining the Eritrean nation.
“The situation in Eritrea remains desperate for Evangelical Christians. The antagonism of authorities in Eritrea towards Evangelical Christians in the country is heightening in many ways,” explained a church leader who remains anonymous for security reasons.
Open Doors has learned that in the space of one year authorities have confiscated more than 1,500 Bibles and burned them. The number of Eritrean Christians fleeing the country to escape the on-going hostility and persecution has increased significantly, and those caught face severe punishment. One pastor told Open Doors, “I love my country Eritrea. We all labored for her independence. But, I will not stop speaking about the suffering of my people... The current situation is worse than [the difficulties we suffered before independence]. The younger generation has left the country. Endless military service and continued threats by security agents make life very difficult for them. Although all Eritreans suffer, the situation for believers is the worst.”
Despite the persecution, sources say Christians persevere in worshiping the Lord and gathering for prayer and Bible study. The Church is even reportedly growing despite the circumstances. The pastor, who chose to remain anonymous, added, “The persecution in Eritrea is a sweet and bitter providence of God. The number of people [from all walks of life] who are receiving Christ attests to the fact that our suffering is God’s strategy to have the Good News of Jesus Christ proclaimed to the Eritrean population through the suffering of the nation’s Christians. I see Philippians 1:12-14 as being fulfilled in Eritrea through our suffering. This indeed is our great comfort and source of strength to keep going until the Lord brings all our sufferings to an end.”
Father, we lift before You our sisters in prison in Eritrea; grant them grace and courage while in custody, and protect others from arrest. We also pray for those who are in prison for their faith in Christ, and call onto You to sustain them. In particular, we pray today for the students who are being held in a military camp and are reportedly being tortured, and for 85-year-old Mama Hajer. Father we are on our knees asking that You provide them comfort, hope and Your wonderful presence as they suffer for Your namesake. May Christ be glorified by their testimony, and may Your Kingdom grow in the midst of these difficult circumstances. In the name of Jesus, who has already obtained the victory, Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tortured in the Sinai: 'I Was Hanged for Days' - Inside Israel - CBN News - Christian News 24-7 - CBN.com

JERUSALEM, Israel -- From the West Coast of Africa to the deserts of Sinai, Bedouin tribes are conducting a human trafficking trade on a massive scale.
It's no secret. The trade reaps millions of dollars and deals with human misery. It could be stopped but so far no one has dared.
"By that time I had lost sense (sensation) in both my hands," an Eritrean torture victim told CBN News. "It was a result of the accumulated torture but mainly because (both) of my wrists were tied up so tightly, (and I was) hanged up from the ceiling for three days, the blood was cut off from my hands and the flesh started to literally drip from my hands."
Torture in the Sinai
This man is just one victim of this widespread modern-day slavery, kidnapping, and torture trade in the Sinai desert. There are many pictures and videos of this horrible practice on the Internet.
For this story, this Christian man from the African country of Eritrea is going by "Philip," but that's not his real name. CBN News covered his identity for his protection.
"In some cases, we were tortured simply because we were Christians," he told us, his chest trembling slightly as he spoke.
"Sinai was always a place for human smuggling, but since around two years ago -- even a bit more -- it started also to be a place of human torture," Shahar Shoham, director of Physicians for Human Rights, told CBN News.
Shorham has documented more than 1,300 cases of torture in the Sinai. Those survivors, like Philip, made it to Israel. But most of the cases of torture are not documented.
"They torture them in horrible methods, like hanging upside down from the ceiling, like using electric shocks, like burning them on their bodies," Shorham said.
Kidnapped for Ransom
This story begins in Eritrea, where many like Philip fled from its brutal dictatorship. He traveled to a United Nations refugee camp in Sudan. There he was kidnapped by a Bedouin tribe.
They transferred him -- along with many others -- through Sudan, Egypt, and all the way to the Sinai desert and their torture camps.
What happens next in these camps is diabolical.
"What they make you do is call your family and ask them for the money," Philip explained. "Usually they will do the asking. They will say, 'Either send this money or your brother will die or your father will die or your son will die.' It depends on whoever is picking up the phone."
"While you're talking to your family they would pour molten plastic on your body so that you would scream and perhaps they thought that would persuade your family to pay or collect the money faster," he said.
The tribesmen demand what for most poor Eritrean families is a king's ransom.
"The ransom fees can go up to $40,000 for an individual and even $50,000, and until the ransom fees (are) paid, the people will not be released," Shoham explained. The financial burden on the families is devastating."
Killing a Soul
Sister Azziza is a Catholic nun from Eritrea who is based in Jerusalem. She has interviewed many of the Sinai survivors.
"People are destroyed physically (and) psychologically because of what they know they did to their family, how they are living," Sister Azziza told CBN News.
But many do not make it out alive.
"We estimate that around 4,000 people died in the Sinai, some of them from torture," Shoham said. Many who were with Philip died.
"We couldn't help them; that was the most horrible thing," he recalled. "Some you know. You have experienced some of the harshest treatment in this world and yet they're dying and you couldn't do anything to help them. That was horrible."
Hanged Like Christ
Yet the torture and the dying go on.
CBN News talked with a 35-year-old Eritrean woman named Segen. She is five month's pregnant.
Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean human rights activist living in Sweden, arranged our conversation. The kidnappers give them cell phones so they can call their family and friends.
We talked via Skype, linking Sweden, Jerusalem, and the Sinai.
It was sobering. You could hear the strain in Segen's voice.
"They are asking for money every minute and they hit us and they put us -- they will make us lie down on the floor and you know their feet would be up and they would hit their feet and melt with melted plastic bags," Estefanos said.
"And so that way they cannot stand because they will torture their feet, and every day they hang them the way they hang Jesus Christ," she said.
"What does she mean when they hang them like Jesus Christ?" CBN News asked.
"They hang us the way He was hanged and they take off their clothes. While they are naked they will hang them. And they will just hit them with big bats like all day for hours," she said.
No Secret to the World
Many of the Etritreans, like Segen and Philip, are Christians. Many don't survive.
"There are around 7,000 that went through these torture camps and 4,000 that died.  Those are huge numbers and I don't think that the world needs to keep quiet about that," Shoham said.
Philip miraculously survived and made it to Israel where he received life-saving medical treatment.
The location of these torture camps is no secret.
"Their location and whereabouts is known already by many high officials," human rights activist Majed El Shafie told CBN News.
"The only way out of this problem is for the international society or the international community to put pressure on the Egyptian government to release the victims, to stop these human traffickers," he said.
Shafie believes some of the American financial aid to Egypt could be used -- with conditions -- to help these victims.
"Every American listening to us right now -- not only Americans but anybody in the world -- can make a difference," he said.
"You can contact your congressman. You can contact your senator. You can show them that you care about these issues," he said. "If you send an email, or fax or make a telephone call, he can save a life."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Eritrea Has Failed to Realize Its Revolutionary Dream | VICE United States


After the Eritrean independence war ended in 1991, Eritreans threw themselves into reconstructing the country's shattered infrastructure, with whole villages helping out to build small dams, terrace-eroded hillsides, and plant thousands of trees. Photos by Dan Connell.
Once a revolution is over, how do you judge its success? A victory for Mao's vision of the People's Republic of China was not exactly a victory for the people of China. A glorious, clean revolution isn't easy. Look at Russia, France, Cambodia, Iran. Look at Egypt today. In the coming decades, we will see the result of revolutions played out across the Arab world and, quite possibly, across Europe as well. Will they be deemed successes by anyone other than the victors?
A crucial, but little reported, example of a hard fought revolution and its troubling aftermath can be found in the Horn of Africa.
Twenty years ago, Eritrea—in the northeast of Africa—became a legally independent nation, having won its de-facto independence from Ethiopia two years earlier, in 1991. This independence was the end result of a 30-year war with Ethiopia. The revolutionaries who won the war were heroes, champions of freedom standing up against an oppressive, murderous Ethiopian regime backed by the Soviet Union and tacitly supported by the West. They had reestablished an independent Eritrean nation and the future looked bright. But revolutionary opposition and day-to-day power are two totally different things. Once you've gotten used to glorious victories, the thrills of red tape and responsibility may well be lost on you. As such, creating a free and democratic society is a total pain in the ass. 
Eritrea had been an Italian colony since 1890, Ethiopia since 1935. After the Second World War, Eritrea became part of Ethiopia but maintained a measure of independence. In 1962, and in contravention of a UN resolution, Ethiopia annexed Eritrea. The UN and other world powers looked on, unwilling to jeopardize their relationship with the strategically-vital Ethiopia. As John Foster Dulles, who would go on to be the United States’ secretary of state, said in 1950, “From the standpoint of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interest of the United States in the Red Sea basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.” Eritrea had been screwed.

An EPLF member outside Asmara, 1979.
When Eritrea gained its independence in the early 1990s, it was the Marxist revolutionary group The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) that took power in Asmara, the nation’s capital, having fought a long and hard guerrilla war against Ethiopia. With their ruthless discipline, encouragement of abstinence and collective focus, the EPLF were—in the words of one leading Eritrean historian—“the most successful liberation movement in Africa.” They were tough, and while their intolerance of dissent galvanized their fighting potential, it merely made them tyrants once they were in power.
Led by Isaias Afewerki, they continued their flair for strong, Marxist-sounding names by becoming the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). And, with Isaias front and center, the PFDJ has remained in power ever since independence.
Today, criticism of the government is not tolerated. Only four religions are officially recognized. Worship in any other church and you'll be persecuted. There is no civil society to speak of and, every month, kids cross the border to escape national service, which has no fixed end and is essentially a form of government-sponsored slavery. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates the number of fleeing Eritreans at 1,000 a month (it's worth noting that escaping means going through the Sahara into mine-strewn Ethiopia while avoiding being shot by border guards). Reporters Without Borders ranks Eritrea 178th out of 178 in the world for press freedom, which basically means anything approaching journalism is banned.

A UN-supplied refugee camp near the border of Ethiopia, accommodating some of the thousands of Eritreans who flee across the border every year.
By 2012, hundreds of thousands of young Eritreans had fled the country to escape the deepening political repression and to avoid what had become open-ended national service in both the armed forces and state and party-controlled businesses. Three hundred refugees were showing up in Ethiopia each month and being placed in UN-supplied camps near the border.
In May, to coincide with Eritrea’s 20th anniversary celebrations, Amnesty International released a damning report entitled Eritrea: 20 Years of Independence, but Still No Freedom. The report claims that there are, at minimum, 10,000 prisoners being held illegally without trial in Eritrea. The human rights organization’s Eritrea researcher, Claire Beston, told me that this figure did not include those people jailed for "avoiding national service or trying to flee the country." The report is littered with the testimony of people who have been affected by the actions of the government:
"I last saw my father at the beginning of 2007, they took him away from our house. I know nothing about what happened afterward."
"This generation, everyone has gone through the prison at least once. Everyone I met in prison has been in prison two or three times."
"Everybody has to confess what he’s done. They hit me so many times... Many people were getting disabled at that military camp. During the night they would take them to a remote area, tie them up, and beat them on their back."
There are many more like this. It’s not exactly light summer reading.

The 1984 to '85 African famine put Eritrea's war for independence on hold as the liberation front trucked aid into the country to prevent both mass starvation and a wholesale exodus from the contested areas. Ethiopia sought to isolate the Eritreans using food as a weapon.
Tesfamichael Gerahtu, Eritrea’s ambassador to the UK and Ireland, told me that while Eritrea have “some challenges in human rights,” there “are no people incarcerated on the basis of their political beliefs.” The Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs released an angrily-worded response that rejected Amnesty’s “wild accusations.” The release concluded that Amnesty would ignore the 20th anniversary celebrations, “smug in its selfrighteous belief that it can, with impunity, attack and denigrate a young nation, which despite many odds, manages to progress and improve the lives of its citizens.”
Amnesty’s Claire Beston told me that Eritrea’s refusal to acknowledge its illegal detention of its own people was “incredibly disappointing for the families of those affected.” Additionally, she pointed out that Eritrea’s imprisonment of innocent people was in direct contravention with a number of international treaties it had signed up to. Drawing parallels with another country known for imprisoning innocent citizens, the human rights activist Khataza Gondwe has referred to Eritrea as "Africa's North Korea."
Eritrea, then, has not become the country many hoped for. “I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t believe that promises were betrayed,” Eritrean exile Gaim Kibreab—a university professor and author of Eritrea: A Dream Deferred—told me. Kibreab left Eritrea in 1976. For him, the actions of the current government “affect us all. I have relatives in Sudanese refugee camps. I have dear friends in prison in Eritrea.” The deferred dream of a free Eritrea was not just Kibreab’s, but one shared by many of his countrymen, though possibly not Isaias Afewerki and his revolutionary army.
Kibreab wishes for a pluralist democracy in which there is a free press and a flourishing civil society. But was this ever going to be a realistic proposition for a group of hardened guerrilla warriors at the end of a 30-year struggle? Decades of uninterrupted power is probably a closer approximation of Isaias' dreams. He’s said to be full of contempt for humanity, to be a big drinker and a mean drunk. He's a human rights violator and a petty thug who's known to break bottles over people's heads once he’s had a few.
As such, being boss probably suits him just fine. His former foreign minister, Petros Solomon, a key fighter and comrade in the revolution, was imprisoned in 2001 for speaking out against the government as part of the G-15 group of dissidents, who wrote an open letter to Isaias denouncing the lack of freedom in Eritrea. Solomon has not been heard from since his imprisonment. 

Petros Solomon in an underground bunker in the frontline town of Nakfa, in 1979.
Some ex-revolutionary fighters and other defenders of the Eritrean government are scornful of exiled, “so-called intellectuals" like Gaim Kibreab. They believe that the people who now talk about human rights in Eritrea are hypocrites, people who didn’t fight and stand up for the violation of Eritrean human rights in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. There is still a significant amount of support for Isaias in the Eritrean diaspora. The Eritrean ambassador told me that “you must respect that we have had our human rights violated,” in relation to Ethiopia’s annexing of—and then war with—Eritrea, as well as the international support of Ethiopia.
Kibreab, in a way, agrees with him. He told me that when you talk about Eritrea, you have to talk about Ethiopia, which—secure in its importance strategically to the United States—has continued to run roughshod over Eritrea and, in doing so, has alienated Eritrea from the rest of the world. A world that now regards it as a small rogue state with a potential for Islamism, while viewing Ethiopia as a large, roguish, but vital state—a key ally in the “War on Terror."
“The international community,” Kibreab pointed out, “has never been charitable to the Eritrean government. But if they moved towards liberal democracy, they’d help themselves." However, this lack of support is worth remembering, particularly since it has been true ever since John Foster Dulles admitted that Eritrea was to be the victim in an international power game. Freedom from the machinations of foreign powers was one of the driving forces of the revolution. Now, still isolated, Isaias and his government continue to battle on, proudly proclaiming survival in the face of international contempt.

In 1998, the Eritreans went back to war with Ethiopia. The country's youth were quickly mobilized to go back into the trenches.
The interminable military service, for example, makes some sense in the context of Ethiopian aggression. In 1998, the two countries went to war over a small portion of disputed territory surrounding the barren, rock-strewn town of Badme. The war, which lasted for over two years and resulted in the death of up to 100,000 soldiers, was described as “two bald men fighting over a comb.”
Since the end of the war, Ethiopia has failed to recognize an international court ruling that stipulates that Badme is part of Eritrea. Eritrean government officials have repeatedly told me that if Ethiopia recognized the boundary, they would be ready to make friends with their neighbors. Ethiopia funds many of the strands of opposition in Eritrea and, along with the United States, plays a crucial role in a paranoid narrative put forward by the Eritrean government: that Eritrea’s very existence is under constant threat from dark powers beyond its borders.
There is an element of truth to this, but of course Isaias and his government spin it out for all its worth. As far as propaganda goes, Ethiopia is Isaias’ greatest ally.

An EPLF member outside Asmara, 1979.
What I’m also talking about here, when I talk about Eritrea at 20 years, is the difference between the idealism of revolutionary opposition and the practical day-to-day reality of running a government. After years in the mountains fighting a guerrilla war, how was a revolutionary movement going to smoothly transition into power? Just like with the Taliban in Afghanistan, we've seen that life in grizzled, iconic opposition is perhaps not the best preparation for a calm, moral government. In opposition, those around Isaias let him do what needed to be done. There was a sense that he was “our bastard.” But, since then, the bastard has never stopped.
Ex-revolutionaries in Eritrea are often characterized as great drinkers, good talkers, and terrible diplomats. They grew up fighting in a revolutionary struggle, and the intricacies of international diplomacy were not for them. Paranoid and wary of showing weakness, they have punished innocent people for their own failings.
This is the sadness of all revolutionary dreams turned sour: the reality of freedom is never the same as the promise of freedom. It's unlikely that when the EPLF were fighting for their country’s independence they looked up at that East African sky and thought: We dream that some day we will imprison people without trial, that our people will do anything they can to escape the country, that our youth will be locked into national service and that there will be no such thing as journalism.
Every generation reacts against the previous one, though. Isaias is getting old, and with the post-independence generation now 20 years old, the next few years could see some upheaval, hopefully for the better, in Eritrea.
Follow Oscar on Twitter: @oscarrickettnow
See more of Dan's work at danconnell.net.
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